Public speaking tops the list of fears for most people. It is either more desired than death or closely behind it. I can attest to that cold, lonely, anxious and dark feeling! I do know that you must have some serious confidence to do it. Some people are wonderful speakers and can orate an hour-long lecture without a single note. However, the number of people who can do this is very small. I, for one, am not one-yet. See, public speaking has always been a fear of mine until people began offering me opportunities to speak. I am just now beginning to get better.
My first opportunity I remember was when I was 15 years old sitting in church on the front pew. The pastor picked me to get up and say a prayer. I had like 5 seconds to come up with a prayer that God would hear it and the people would feel. I tell you; that had to have been the shortest and worst prayer ever. The church was packed. It was more like “God is good, God is Great. Thank you for everything….. Amen”, and I stumbled to get that out. I was traumatized from then on.
In college, I got better when I took on leadership roles and managed a restaurant, but one could probably tell, I had the jitters initially. I have not perfected the art of public speaking, but with each opportunity, I do find myself getting better– as many people do. I remember when I was completing my MBA, it was a requirement to deliver a presentation almost every week. That’s one way to shock out the fear. Trust me, at times I underestimated the amount of preparation necessary. Thinking I could wing it, I go up there and draw a freaking blank and then stumble about until I found my place. Way to make a good first impression! By the end, the members of my cohort were telling me I should consider becoming a a professor. I’m thinking, if only you knew the preparation I put into that. I don’t have time for that! But at the same time I was proud of myself for overcoming that barrier and having others recognize it.
I continue to improve and above all prepare. The thing that sets good speakers apart is the actions we take in between opportunities. You see, when you have to been recognized as a leader or an expert in your craft, the impetus is on you to cultivate that craft so you can add value at the right moment. Admittedly, sometimes I will stand in front of the mirror and attempt to just talk about a subject for 1 -2 minutes. When I have a presentation, I start practicing weeks in advance! I refuse to embarrass myself up there! Believe me, at 32, I still have flashbacks to my 15 year old self standing in front of 200 people tripping over what could have been a fantastic prayer. I–by zero means—am a winger, but if I continue and practice enough I just might be some day. So if you are afraid of public speaking or find that to be an area of weakness, I’d leave you with a few important nuggets to consider.
- You may embarrass yourself the first time; own it.
- Billions of people throughout time has felt the same you do.
- You must prepare in advance—not 1 day prior.
- Find your style. If you are a hand out reader; own that too…but
- Practice alternative styles like impromptu speaking, memorizing speeches, Q&A sesh, etc.
- Take on opportunities to speak publicly. (Speak the fear away).
You got this.